Twenty-five-year-old Hiram College alumnus Nathaniel Eaton ’17 of South Euclid went from Hiram to Hollywood in recent months with his toy creation, Water Dodger. The original handheld shield fashioned with a net to hold water balloons, which Eaton crafted in his second-floor Booth Hall room, caught the attention of ABC television network’s “The Toy Box.” Eaton will show off his creation on the season two premiere of “The Toy Box” airing Sunday, Oct. 1 at 7 p.m. Eaton will compete on the show against other toy inventors for the ultimate chance to have Water Dodger manufactured and marketed by toy giant Mattel and placed on Toys “R” Us shelves nationwide the day after the show’s finale episode.
Will Eaton dodge past competitors by winning the affections of “The Toy Box’s” panel of fun-loving yet tough child judges? The Hiram College community is invited to join for a watch party at Dix Dining Hall, 6-8 p.m., Oct. 1, to find out and cheer on Eaton as he showcases his invention to viewers nationwide.
Eaton’s entrepreneurial journey began in spring 2014 when he sketched more than a dozen color Water Dodgers on paper in his Hiram dorm room. From those outlines, Eaton created a cardboard cutout of the shield, which he designed with a net to hold water balloons and decorated with blue water drops and the word “Dodger” in orange. He snipped a plastic handle off of a bathroom caddy and attached it to the back of the shield with grey duct tape.
Eaton stayed at Hiram College during summer 2014 to further develop his invention. The location presented him the opportunity to turn his cardboard toy loose on children who participated in summer music, sports, and academic camps held on campus.
“The kids always went nuts whenever I showed them the prototypes and explained the different gaming concepts I had in mind for Water Dodger. That’s when I knew I had something,” says Eaton, who majored in business management and minored in entrepreneurship.
Eaton says he wanted to create a cool and exciting splashing toy that brought fun and laughter to players.
“I noticed there was an opportunity in the market because water guns were such a big hit for summer play, but started to fade. I knew I had to create something that delivered a big splash, but wasn’t in the shape of a gun,” he says. “I had a vision of a superhero and the Incredible Hulk throwing and dodging water balloons.”
By early fall 2014, Eaton created acrylic shields, which he jigsawed by hand. He attached the net pouches to the newly designed Water Dodgers with power-drilled screws and also added Velcro straps as handles.
On the campus green, Eaton gathered eight friends, four from Hiram’s football team and four from the lacrosse team, to play the first Water Dodger game ever.
“They were having a great time,” says Eaton with a chuckle, recalling the fast-dwindling stock of water balloons he supplied to his friends.
After seeing his vision play out for the first time, Eaton took note of details: the need for a lighter shield and better-quality pouch. It wasn’t until early 2016 that Eaton introduced his next prototype, which was a lightweight foam shield covered with Coroplast (plastic) as the top layer. The shield sported a new, but not final, Water Dodger logo designed by Temma Collins of Cleveland Heights and Eaton’s “Can you stay dry?” slogan.
“I was able to get to this point by being resourceful,” says Eaton, explaining that he contacted companies in Ohio, Indiana and even Australia for prototype materials.
Encouraged by his professor, Kay Molkentin, director of Hiram’s Center for Integrated Entrepreneurship, to enter Water Dodger in a product concept competition called Ideabuild, Eaton emerged as the second-place winner of the 2016 contest. He used his $500 winnings to apply for a provisional patent and secure a trademark and copyright.
Meanwhile, Molkentin worked to connect Eaton with mentors who had expertise in entrepreneurship, patent law, and the like. Eaton went on to represent Hiram at the Entrepreneurship Education Consortium’s regional ideaLabs in which college students from the 11 public and private consortium member schools compete.
While Eaton didn’t win or even place in the competition, “that didn’t stop him,” says Molkentin.
Eaton went on to make 12 more prototypes to which Hiram College dining hall employee Dawn Bene added the final touches: mesh nets she stitched for each shield. Eaton promoted his product relentlessly. He walked the streets of Cleveland holding a Water Dodger and ready to deliver his 10-second pitch to anyone willing to listen.
“My idea was to try to tell everyone about Water Dodger and the excitement and splash it brings,” he says.
Eaton’s persistence paid off. Gather in Glenville event series organizers spotted Eaton during one of his outings and invited him to participate in an outdoor festival where Water Dodger made its public debut.
Soon after, Eaton showcased his invention in stories and interviews with The Columbus Dispatch, Freshwater Cleveland and Fox 8 News – WJW TV in Cleveland. He also developed a Water Dodger video with support from an entrepreneur mentor and children from the local community.
“The continuous strides to bring Water Dodger to the world has been led by small and big accomplishments, great support, and always with passion as my fuel,” Eaton says. “The opportunity for a national TV show appearance has showed me that anything is possible.”